I am a believer that there is no such a thing as a national cinema. To paraphrase Truman Capote, cinema does not know geography. It doesn’t have boundaries. But still, we’ve been through many phases and the best that Italian cinema can offer comes from the gaze of a filmmaker, that they’re alien. That they are not at the center of things, but more on the side. That they’re capable of shining light on the aspect of things that are not expected or mainstream. That’s what I love about Italian cinema—and [Roberto] Rossellini being the godfather of it all. He was the one who led the way to really remove yourself from the center, trying to be more on the edge in order to shine more profound light.
This may be one of my favorite films ever—of all places, of all time. I feel like this is one of the greatest portraits of what it really means to have a relationship with another. I found the way in which Rossellini gathered together the concept of love and lust and the concept of a landscape astonishing—in this particular case, the landscape of the souls of two characters reflecting the landscape of Napoli and, in general, the South of Italy. And yet, there’s something I can’t grasp about how he made it at all.
I was asked to list five Italian films and I listed probably [Bernardo] Bertolucci’s most Italian movie. The way in which Bertolucci is always interested in the taboo, in the Freudian sense of the word, has constantly been a source of strong inspiration and revelation. In this case, the taboo being the relationship between mother and son. I think the movie was damned when it came out, and overlooked. The movie was considered too heightened in the melodrama and too provocative in its depiction of the morbid relationship between mother and son. I think we are doing the rounds now, 40-plus years later, in the way in which we are currently approaching sex to be kind of provocative. That’s why I find it interesting to propose now. It really deserves to be seen for its great sense of mental drama in that kind of relationship. And Jill Clayburgh’s performance is just amazing.
Adwa is a great documentary by the master Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima. It’s a co-production with Italy. Haile Gerima is one of the greatest filmmakers in the history of cinema, yet he has been constantly kept in a condition of marginality, particularly in this part of the world. It’s probably because he has this lucid idea of the attempted colonization of Ethiopia by the fascist regime of Italy in the ’30s and what that meant. Adwa is really the final word on the fierce fight against fascism and nationalism from the people of Ethiopia. I was raised in Ethiopia from my birth until 6 years old so I feel very strongly that this title is important not only for its deepness regarding the topic described, the Battle of Adwa, but also for my personal life.
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièlle Huillet are French and German, but at the same time, they’d been working a lot in Italy. They lived in Rome for many years. I remember the epiphany I went through when, at 19 or 20, I met them in Sicily where I was growing up and how a conversation I had with both of them led me to understand that I shouldn’t have pursued my path in cinema through a film school, but more through learning and understanding the work of other filmmakers such as them. So they had a very strong, direct influence in my upbringing and my work. Sicilia is a great portrait of my homeland because I was born in Sicily and I came back to Sicily after Ethiopia. And it’s really the idea of experiencing two great auteurs’ vision of such a complex place like Sicily.
And finally, Mario Bava, who is the godfather of every great thrill that we’ve been through as an audience. Without Maria Bava, there would be no Dario Argento, there would be no other great filmmakers like John Landis or Joe Dante or even Jonathan Demme. Mario Bava has been one of the greatest influences in cinema for the genre of horror and the fantastic. His capacity for inventiveness and his really wonderful sense of cinema are still a great lesson for anyone who wants to approach cinema for the values of the language of cinema itself. Black Sabbath is a collection of short stories that is going to thrill whoever approaches it.